The doctrine of the incarnation is the central truth of the Christian faith and the real meaning behind Christmas. The word incarnation comes from two Latin words, ‘in’ and ‘caro,’ which means ‘in flesh.’ The doctrine of the incarnation teaches that God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, took on human flesh. Not only is the incarnation central to the Christian faith, but as C. S. Lewis wrote, “If the thing happened, it was the central event in the history of the Earth.”
Why must Christians believe in the incarnation? The Bible, God’s revelation, teaches that Jesus was both God and Man. This doctrine is so essential to the Christian faith that if any group or sect denies either the humanity or the deity of Jesus, it is not Christian. In the first few centuries of Christianity there was a tendency among certain groups to deny the humanity of Jesus. Docetism was an early Christian heresy that taught that Jesus was God, but He only ‘appeared’ to be human; in essence, his humanity was not real. The Apostle John wrote against this heresy in 1 John 4:2-3a: “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God…”
In today’s post-enlightened world, there is a tendency to deny the deity of Jesus (Arianism), despite the many verses in scripture that teach both His deity and humanity. The Apostle Matthew understood Isaiah 7:14 (Matt. 1:23) to be a prophecy concerning the birth of Jesus: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” This verse teaches both the virginal conception (essential to the doctrine of the incarnation), and that the child would be called Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.’
In Isaiah 9:6 the child is identified: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The prophet announces that a child is born (to humanity), but at the same time a Son is given (the Son of God from heaven). Among the names of this child born to humanity are ‘Mighty God’ and ‘Everlasting Father’ (a reference to Christ as the creator, not the first person of the Trinity). John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” followed in verse 14 by, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” This is the essence of the incarnation and the reason we celebrate Christmas.
Billy Elkins is the pastor of Trinity Church. He is a graduate of Chickasha High School, has a B.A. in Fine Art from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, and a Master of Divinity with Biblical Languages from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, FT. Worth, TX. He is currently in the final dissertation phase of a Ph.D. in Apologetics and Philosophy from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY.